SUNY Upstate Grad Student Who Helped Develop Quadrant Biosciences’ Autism Diagnostic Aid Appears on Jeopardy

A graduate student who received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in Dr. Frank Middleton’s laboratory at SUNY Upstate Medical University had her time in the spotlight on the May 10 episode of Jeopardy. 

salivary-miRNADr. Cherry Ignacio worked primarily on bioinformatics tools used to analyze autism-related data sets during her time in the lab. Specifically, Ignacio helped analyze RNAs in saliva and blood from human subjects as well as models of autism that laid the groundwork for Quadrant Biosciences’ saliva-based autism diagnostic aid, Clarifi ASD, which is still in development

“Cherry was a natural at working with the big data sets we were generating from next generation sequencing, and deploying novel algorithms to uncover the hidden information they held. That approach turned into a major step forward for the field”, said her Ph.D. mentor Dr. Middleton, a Professor of Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Psychiatry and Pediatrics. 

While Ignacio didn’t win the popular game show, Jeopardy host Mayim Bialik asked about her past graduate work with autism in the contestant interview segment.

Ignacio, who explained the significance of the autism diagnostic aid to Bialik, said, “What makes it special is that a lot of kids who could be on the spectrum, they don’t like getting their blood drawn, and so our pivot there was making them spit into a tube and we do genome sequencing on that.” 

Ignacio’s graduate work was an important start in the journey that would eventually lead to the awarding of the shared patent for the “Multiomic Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis.” The patent awardees were Quadrant Biosciences CEO Rich Uhlig, along with Dr. Frank Middleton, Ph.D. and Dr. Steve Hicks, MD, Ph.D., both longtime scientific collaborators. To read more about the patent, click here.